FOCUS ON ACHIEVABLE GOALS
One of the challenges for passionate founders with ambitious ideas is to not be overwhelmed and stymied by the size and complexity of the venture opportunity. The old axiom about how to eat an elephant—one bite at a time—will serve you well as you seek to accelerate down your startup runway. Break your grand vision into shorter-term, readily achievable goals to encourage clear progress and rapid iteration. From a motivational perspective, the achievement of each step brings its own psychological reward, a dose of satisfaction, and a sense that your venture is gaining ground.
In an article summarizing a longitudinal study of nascent entrepreneurs, Sibin Wu, Linda Matthews, and Grace Dagher of the University of Texas (Pan American) observe that achievement-oriented entrepreneurs tend to do best with a measured approach to goal setting. “For highly complex tasks, such as the entrepreneurial process, difficult goals are not as effective as simple goals,” they write. “Entrepreneurs tend to be overconfident and overestimate their abilities and their business goals. They may overconfidently set their goals too high. . . and hence experience dissatisfaction instead of satisfaction.”10 It’s important to emphasize here that setting achievable goals does not equate to shrinking from adversity or ignoring challenging tasks. The lesson is not to abandon your ultimate vision but to keep your eyes focused on the difficult but achievable steps that will get you there.
To boost the positive effect of your short-term goal setting, create regular points of accountability at which you will share results with others. Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, a seed-stage technology venture capital fund, has wryly observed that perhaps the biggest differentiator between successful and failing startup teams funded by Y Combinator is how consistently these founding teams attend Tuesday night dinners hosted by him and his colleagues. In a talk to his founders entitled “How Not to Die,” Graham said, “You’ve probably noticed that having dinners every Tuesday with us and the other founders causes you to get more done than you would otherwise, because every dinner is a mini Demo Day. Every dinner is a kind of a deadline. So the mere constraint of staying in regular contact with us
Will push you to make things happen. . . It would be pretty cool if merely by staying in regular contact with us, you could get rich. It sounds crazy, but there’s a good chance that would work.”11